I, Marcelline Indwar, was born on July 17, 1945 at Moubhandar, Singhbhum district in Bihar, now in West Singhbhum, Jharkhand. We belonged to Jamshedpur diocese and Moubhandar was a sub-station. My father, Brice Indwar originally belonged to Koneskali village in Jithtoli parish, Ranchi diocese. He married my mother, Rahil Barla, in 1942 and settled in Moubandar. He was an employee of Indian Copper Corporation (ICC) factory in Moubandar. He had only middle school education and he was determined to make a good living. He was an enterprising person and he took up other side jobs to make more money, taking orders from villages and stitching clothes for selling. My mother used to help him in all his work. He even bought a gramophone just for the sake of it. We lived in company quarters. My parents were devout Catholics. My father conducted daily family prayer, rosary and litanies of saints.
I am the eldest in my family. After her first delivery my mother went into a coma though I was a healthy new-born baby. My father was stressed not knowing whether she would survive and if not who will look after his baby girl. He prayed to God that if my mother survives he would offer his first- born girl to serve God as a religious. In answer to prayer, my mother survived. My parents lost two babies immediately after birth, then came my three brothers, Fredy, Bonaventure and Norbert. My baptismal name is Marcellina and I was fondly called Leena. My father gave prominence to my education. I still remember him saying, “My girl child should be well educated to stand on her own feet so that she does not have to do ordinary work and depend on anyone for her living”. From Class II he sent me to an English medium school run by the Apostolic Carmelites in Jamshedpur. He put his three sons in regular government Hindi medium school for primary education and they completed their high school at St. Xavier’s School, Lupungutu.
It was hard for me to leave home for school. Fredy, my younger brother, always threw a tantrum to go with me to the hostel every time I came back home which made it even harder for me to leave home. I stayed in the hostel for ten years.
After completing my eleventh class in 1964, I went to Patna Women’s College, run by the same Sisters, for pre-university and graduation. My father’s friends used to taunt him by asking why he was sending me to a prestigious school and college and would I look after him in his old age.
When I completed my bachelors in History Honours in 1968, I worked as a teacher for a year in Musabani School run by the Sisters of the Apparition. I got a scholarship from Jamshedpur diocese for my Master’s degree in Social Work (MSW) at Nirmala Niketan College of Social Work (NNCSW), Bombay, (now Mumbai). In those days NNCSW invited Catholic girls from various dioceses for studies. The principal, Miss Baker, an American, was surprised that someone from Bihar which is considered as a backward state would come for studies in Bombay. When she came to know that I studied in Jamshedpur she was surprised. She knew the Tata Company and Jamshedpur was a well-developed industrial hub.
I worked for two years at Damien Social Welfare Centre (DSWC), Dhanbad, run by the Jamshedpur Jesuits to cater to the leprosy patients. I loved my work and had the greatest job satisfaction. While working there, Brother Oscar Rodericks, brother of Margaret Rodericks, SCN, asked me to visit Mokama. This is how I came to know the SCN Sisters. I liked the openness of the Sisters and their work among the rural poor. What attracted me most was their simple ordinary lay dress, sari. I wanted to be like one of them as I did not wish to appear in a religious habit which all other congregations wore at that time.
My parents were open when I told them that I wanted to become a religious. As a child when I heard my father pray for religious vocation from the family I used to wonder whom he meant by it. I had completely forgotten that he had made a promise that he would offer me to serve God as a religious. I took time to discern until all the resistance within me vanished and I decided to join the SCNs.
Accompanied by my father, I reached Mokama in September 1974. Sisters warmly welcomed me and I felt I had come to the right place. My father was also pleased to see our Sisters and he was very comfortable with them. I only had a few days of candidacy since I knew English and Hindi. I joined postulancy in the same month; we were eleven in the group. Shalini D’Souza, SCN was our postulant and novice director in Mokama. I was the only postulant from North India and all the others were from Kerala. I was a professional and older in age and, initially, I found it difficult to adjust with the younger ones. Gradually we were able to communicate and I felt very much at home with my companions.
Nine of us went to Kerwateri Ashram in Sokho for our canonical year of novitiate and Sister Patricia Mary Kelly was our director. It was a very good experience though challenging in other ways. We had no electricity or running water. We were surrounded by the beauty of nature which helped us to enter into silence and inner solitude. We did manual work as part of the Ashram experience. Once a week we polished the mud floor of the Ashram with cow-dung and once a year, the mud walls. We enjoyed the afternoon bathing in the nearby stream.
As a second year novice, I went to Creane Memorial School, Gaya as a teacher which I enjoyed very much. Sister Shalini was thoughtful in sending me there knowing that I was a trained social worker and I may never have an opportunity to work in a school again.
As a novice, I had the privilege to be present for the opening of Gomoh mission, a branch of DSWC, Dhanbad on August 6, 1977. I made my first vows on September 27, the same year and was missioned in Gomoh, for three years. My parents and my brother, Norbert, and some people from Gomoh also were present for my first vows.
My second mission was in formation work in Mokama from 1980 to 1989. I had an internship with Teresita Theruvankunnel, SCN, at Kerwateri Ashram in Sokho and with Sister Shalini in Mokama. I took care of the candidates for a year and then the postulants. I also attended a four-month Sadhana course in Lonavala, Pune, in-service training for formation. In 1986 I went to Baulkam Hills in Sydney, Australia for a three-month course for the formators. In preparation for my final vows I had the four-month Tertianship program in Gomoh and made final vows in Mokama on December 27, 1982.
In 1988 I went to Chetanalaya, Delhi, Social Work Centre of Delhi Archdiocese. I stayed in the Sundernagari slum with a Notre Dame Sister for one year. On weekends I joined Marietta Saldanha, SCN who was part of the cathedral parish ministry. I was part of a group searching for a house for SCNs in Delhi. Nazareth Kunj, the new house was inaugurated on March 24, 1992 in Karkardooma. From here Philomena Kottoor, SCN and I started the ministry at Vishwasnagar slums.
On my way to Sokho, my next mission, in 1993, I was asked to take care of Susheela Palatty, SCN, for a few months. She was taking dialysis and staying at the provincial house in Patna. From 1994, I stayed in Sokho for four years. I was involved in making self-help groups among women and balwadis (non-formal classes for small children) in different villages. I hired local teachers and prepared them to teach in these centres. I also took care of the pastoral ministry in the parish.
My next mission was at Asha Niwas, Gurgaon (now Gurugram) in Haryana, a shelter home for the girl-children of commercial sex-workers in Delhi. This ministry is an effort of Sister Shalini D’Souza in collaboration with MSFS (Missionaries of Saint Francisco Saverio), an Italian lay organisation. I worked here from 1998-2002 as the coordinator of the program and worked in community service as director of temporary professed Sisters.
In 2002 I was elected vice-provincial of Jharkhand region. So I shifted to Ranchi and completed the term in 2007. After I was elected as one of the vice provincials I went for a short renewal to Almora for my silver jubilee celebration in 2002.
For the first time we had in the leadership, a team of three. I said “Yes” to this ministry because I was part of a team and I also already knew many of the temporary professed Sisters. It was a continuation of listening to the Sisters and understanding them in a different role. I also came to know the province and its functioning. We divided the province into three regions, Patna, Bangalore and Ranchi. My base was Ranchi because it is predominantly a Tribal belt. For a year, I also continued to be the director of the temporary professed. The biggest challenge we had to face in leadership was personnel crunch.
After my term of office as vice provincial I took a group of six temporary professed Sisters who were ready to make their final vows to Nazareth, KY via Paris, France for two months. On the way to Nazareth, we visited important places of St. Vincent de Paul in Paris for a week, staying with the Daughters of Charity.
I was in Dockyard, Mumbai from 2007 to 2009 as director of Vimala Vikas Kendra, a social work centre of the parish for the outreach program for the welfare of the slums in the vicinity. We had regular evening coaching classes for the government school-going students. Many of the children worked with their parents to sort out fish in the dock before going to school. It was very difficult to manage these unruly and undisciplined children. They lived in shanty huts in close proximity to one another. Children were part of various notorious gangs for their survival. In the four slums where we worked, there was a project to provide incentives in cash to begin small enterprises for their economic well-being. We also found jobs in various homes for those who were looking for domestic work.
We lived in two classrooms of the school converted into living quarters. Our residence was very small with minimum living area, much like the residences of most ordinary people in Mumbai. We took part in the parish activities especially in the Basic Christian Communities. We visited families, took Holy Communion to the old, bed-ridden and sick. Two of the Sisters were principals of the middle and high school of the parish and we also had two student Sisters staying with us.
Being in Mumbai for the second time reminded me of my student life as a young woman. Though I had done field work in the slums for my studies, now I was able to understand the struggles of the migrants who settled in these slums by close interactions with them. I also came to know closely the Catholic community of the area.
From Mumbai I came to Arunodaya in Patna in July 2009. I assisted the director for the ten-month training in mid-level social work program for the young women who have completed their high school education or more. Most of these poor girls came from Jharkhand area. I took classes in life-coping skills and community organisation. I liked the program because all of these girls were able to get employment to improve their living standards. After working a few years some of the smart motivated students did further studies to move up the social ladder. If not for this training most of these girls would have migrated to major Indian cities and ended up as exploited domestic workers.
In 2012 I went back to Ranchi to be part of a new initiative, Catherine Spalding Centre, (CSC) begun by Shalini D’Souza, SCN. Our aim was to help the marginalized women and children of Jharkhand and we joined hands with the National Domestic Workers Movement in Mumbai for collaboration, consultative resources and visibility. CSC focuses on the professional education of young girls and women for employment. We have helped more than ten girls to complete their high-school, plus two and professional training. Five of these are already working. These girls also take advantage of the basic computer and tailoring classes at CSC. A few students from outside also attend these classes.
Later we took up a collaborative effort with Jaan Foundation and thus was born Premashray (home of love), a shelter home for girl children who are being trafficked to metropolitan cities for domestic work. Jaan Foundation is a non-governmental organisation to give hope and critical support to children in need of care and protection. Its founder was Sister Jeanne Devos, an ICM Sister and its headquarters is in Mumbai. We have been fortunate to be part of 1475 who are either trafficked, run-away street children, abandoned or mentally ill. Premashray is financially aided by the government of Jharkhand and Jaan Foundation. Now we work in close collaboration with the social welfare department, police and the Child-line of Ranchi. Premashray has been able to reunite most of these with their families. Those whose homes could not be located or parents who do not want them and the children themselves who do not want to be in their homes are placed in various residential government schools (Kasturba Gandhi Schools) to continue their studies.
As the project was taking root, I counselled every child who came to Premashray. I had a good rapport with them. Children felt at home here, wanted and loved. Premashray was a home for the children who came here. Actually, none of them want to leave this place for studies or for their home.
My mission in Asha Niwas, Gurugram with the children of the commercial sex workers and trafficked girls of Jharkhand has been significant because I had the direct opportunity to address one of the very important issues of the day. I have grown in wisdom and stature ministering in these places.
I joined religious life to be of service to others and have a meaningful life. Over the years I have become more contemplative, prayerful and spiritual. I experience a sense of being rather than achievement. My faith in God and community has deepened. I have been able to mentor many young Sisters in community by accompanying them. I am happy and proud to be an SCN for the last forty-one years and look forward to many more years in service and community.
My youngest brother, Norbert passed away after a year of his marriage in 2008. It was very painful and a jolt to our family. I was in Mumbai and had come to Mokama for a meeting when I got word that he was serious. I was able to be present for the funeral.
One of the challenges that I feel personally now is that we, formators, need to keep up with the modern trends in society to nurture, guide and accompany the formees, especially the candidates who come from various backgrounds. We also need to make efforts to understand our own Sisters who come from various other cultures.
My dream and hope is that our emerging SCNs will be deeply rooted in God, aware of the current global situation, be technology-friendly and unafraid to impact the society and the world with love and peace.
Living the SCN way of life I have become more God-oriented, contemplative in prayer and my mission is more meaningful. Joy and fun in community life has sustained me to give myself totally to the Divine who called me to serve the people of God with love and compassion. Religious life has freed me to live life in fullness with my Sisters in community with gratitude.
Marcelline Indwar, SCN
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